From coffee grounds, to leftover fettuccine alfredo, to the slimy, brown head of lettuce forgotten at the back of your fridge, the Ontario government is aiming to keep all organic waste away from landfills.
It’s an ambitious target for a province that generates nearly 12 million tonnes of waste a year – more than 850 kilograms per person – and only recycles about a quarter of that amount.
If improvements aren’t made, the province’s landfills could run out of capacity within the next 20 years, the government warns.
In 2004, the Liberal government promised to boost the rate of waste diversion – through recycling and composting programs for example – to 60 per cent in four years. But 13 years later, the rate hasn’t changed. Now, the government has set its sights on an even more distant target of 100 per cent.
Hence the Strategy for a Waste-Free Ontario, which aims to create a “circular economy,” where waste is considered a resource that can be recovered, reused and reintegrated.
One area of focus is organic waste, which decomposes in landfills producing gases, such as methane, that contribute to global warming. Ontarians generate 3.7 million tonnes of organic waste per year, and greenhouse gas emissions from the waste sector – mostly organics in landfill – account for six per cent of the province’s total emissions.
The government’s organics action plan, to be implemented next year, includes the possibility of a ban on sending organics to landfills.
More than half the food waste in the province is generated at home, but the residential sector has steadily improved how much of that is diverted from landfills, with a rate now just over 50 per cent. In contrast, only a quarter of the food waste produced by the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors is diverted.
Fundamental changes are required in how people think of and treat organic waste, said Environment Minister Chris Ballard.